14 January 2018

A Successful Young Queen: Margaret of France

Via Wikimedia Commons
Like so many princesses, Margaret of France, half-sister of King Philip IV, was a pawn in a game over which she had no influence. War was always simmering between the French and English kings. The widowed English King Edward I controlled Gascony and Philip wanted it back. To keep the peace, a double marriage was proposed between the 51-year-old Edward and 11-year-old Margaret and between Edward's only surviving son, the six-year-old Edward Prince of Wales and Philip's three-year-old daughter Isabella. In return, Edward would surrender Gascony. Turns out an 11-year-old bride was not enough to warrant the loss of territory and war broke out before the marriages were completed.

But, Edward had other problems: the Scots. He could not fight wars on two ends of his kingdom. After five years, he finally agreed to sacrifice Gascony so he could focus on Scotland. The marriage to Margaret, now old enough to be a useful Queen, helped make it more palatable. By that time, she was finally old enough to be a wife.

Not a very auspicious beginning for a marriage. The fact that Edward and his first wife Eleanor of Castile had been deeply in love and nearly inseparable also did not bode well for Margaret. (Read my post Eleanor's Crosses: A Royal Love Story.) However, the enviable Eleanor had let Edward down by producing only one surviving son. Of 16 children, only 5 had been boys and only the youngest of these sons was still living. The king's new wife was expected to produce a backup plan in case the young Prince Edward followed his brothers to the grave. Margaret quickly succeeded, first giving birth to Thomas of Brotherton nine months after her marriage and Edmund of Woodstock just 14 months later. A little girl, named Eleanor, was born several years later but died at age five.

King Edward was often away, usually fighting the Scots; he's not remembered as the "Hammer of the Scots" for nothing, but Margaret quickly became indispensable to him and traveled with him as much as possible. He called her a "pearl of great price." She seems to have possessed a wisdom beyond her age that helped her became an important center of the royal family's life. She often served as emissary between the irascible and aging king and her stepchildren, most of whom were older than she was. She had a particularly close relationship with Edward Prince of Wales who addressed her as "my very dear lady and mother," even though she was only a few years his senior. The warrior king and the pleasure-loving prince never saw eye to eye and it was Margaret who helped keep the peace between them.

Margaret was deeply grieved when the king died suddenly on his way yet again to battle in Scotland. Only 27 years old, she refused ever to marry again but she did not put aside her royal role. Within months, she traveled with the new King Edward II back to her native France for him to complete the marriage his father had arranged for him with Margaret's niece, Isabella, and she was present when the couple's first child, the future Edward III, was born a few years later.

Despite the close bond between Margaret and her stepson, his actions soon began to trouble her. He took away lands granted to her by her husband and gave them to his favorite Piers Gaveston. Margaret also fought to protect the inheritances of her own sons against their half-brother. Only seven and five years old when their father died, Thomas and Edmund had no one else to safeguard their interests against a king who had a rapidly growing reputation of taking from others to enrich his friends. In fact, the rising prominence of Gaveston led Margaret to embark on the only intrigue in her life when she helped fund a movement to oust him from power.

Otherwise, Margaret's widowhood was uneventful. When she died 700 years ago on January 14, 1318, her teenage sons were at the mercy of their half-brother. Tensions among them continued to grow, with both Thomas and Edmund joining Margaret's niece Isabella and Isabella's lover Roger Mortimer in the rebellion that dethroned Edward II.

Margaret was no longer there to keep the peace in the family.

More about Margaret of France
Margaret of France on Elizabeth Norton Historian and Author
Margaret of France on English Monarchs
Margaret of France, Queen of England on Unofficial Royalty
Margaret of France, Second Wife of King Edward I on e-Royalty
Marguerite of France (1) on Edward II
Marguerite of France (2) on Edward II
Marguerite of France, Queen of England on The Freelance History Writer
Marguerite of France, Queen of England on Royal Descent
An Unexceptional Man in Exceptional Times on English History Fiction Authors

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